Montreal

Montreal to begin vaccinating homeless population after spike in COVID-19 cases

Homeless people in Montreal could receive the vaccine for COVID-19 as early as this week as the city tries to get a spike in COVID-19 cases under control.

172 cases confirmed among homeless population and workers since start of December

There has been a major spike in COVID-19 cases among Montreal's homeless population since December. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Homeless people in Montreal could receive the vaccine for COVID-19 as early as this week as the city tries to get a spike in COVID-19 cases under control.

Dr. Mylène Drouin, the city's public health director, said Wednesday the vaccinations will be limited to just over 500 doses to start, in an attempt to help control specific outbreaks.

She said authorities also plan to increase screening for the virus among the homeless population and to increase the number of beds available at the old Royal Victoria Hospital.

Drouin said there have been 114 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the homeless population and another 68 among those work with them.

The decision to go ahead with vaccinations comes after local community groups pressed the Quebec government to make vaccinating the homeless population a priority.

The Old Brewery Mission, the Welcome Hall Mission, Maison du Père and Accueil Bonneau have also raised concerns about the impact of the curfew on homeless people.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the solution is for police to show "tolerance and humanity."

She said shelters are "filled to the brim" and they are working to give them more resources.

Sam Watts, the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, welcomed the announcement. He said vaccinating homeless people makes sense, given the challenges they already face living on the street.

"I think we need to take care of those people and protect them, and protect those who serve them," he said in a interview.

More broadly, Drouin said Montreal has been given more than 43,000 vaccine doses so far, has used more than 30,000, and there are no concerns that there will be "doses left in the fridge" past their expiry date.

By next week, Bélanger said, all Montreal CHSLD residents, employees and doctors will have received a first vaccine dose.

with files from John MacFarlane and Alison Northcott

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